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Open letter from Paul Haggis in Port au Prince, Haiti

This morning we toured the "street schools" in the slums of Cite Soleil and surrounding areas, the poorest neighborhoods in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; the schools sponsored by NPH International and Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ). Most were destroyed. The good news was that the quake hit just as school had let out, so nowhere near as many children were killed as we feared. Still, too many. We met many people who had lost children, sisters and brothers. We took our building and architectural partners and made solid steps towards designing and constructing new disaster-resistant schools. More about that at a later time.

What I want to tell you about is what happened this afternoon and this evening.

While I stood by and watched, two people we brought to Haiti, and one old friend and newest APJ board member, pulled off an unbelievable miracle. They saved the lives of 18 people. Working with heroic medical teams, John Edwards, David Belle and Moran Atias, through sheer persistence and force of will, fought an incredible bureaucracy and won.

These were 18 children and adults who could not be treated in Port-au-Prince and so were being left for dead. When we arrived, the staff of St Damien's told us that they had been begging anyone who would listen to get them medivac-ed out of the country to hospitals in the US, but no one would listen.  But the incredible team of J/P HRO doctors that Sean Penn and Diana Jenkins brought us refused to just let them lie there until they died.

John Edwards started making calls. The initial response was, "Are they US Citizens?" Of course they weren't. None of us thought he had a rats chance in hell.

He lost contact. The phones didn't work -- not even SAT phones. The next morning David Belle started emailing and made contact with his friend the extraordinary Dr. Barth Green, chief neurologist at Jackson Memorial and on the ground in Haiti, with his Project Medishare team at the Port-au-Prince airport. Dr. Green didn't hesitate and said,  "Bring them over." David and John spent the next 3 hours searching for Dr. Green's team amongst a maze of military camps at the airport. When
they found him, he provided a 40-foot flatbed cargo truck, and said, "Go get them, but the only person who can get military approval for evac is Edwards."

Back to the night before.

After working late into the night along side Maria Bello, helping to organize the medicine and medical supplies that we brought, along with many more boxes that Sean and Diana gave us, Moran Atias couldn't sleep, so she began assisting the doctor in charge of these "hopeless cases," J/P's Dr. Alice Thompson. In the morning, after touring the schools, she heard that David and John were making headway and she leapt in and started organizing the Haitian patients. She started getting the names of the critically ill children, and tracking down their parents and guardians and getting information, and making sure the doctors agreed they were stable enough for evacuation.

Then David and John showed up with the flatbed and, working with the St, Damien's staff and the J/P HRO doctors, they started loading. And within hours, a convoy of six vehicles, flatbeds and pickup trucks, drove slowly to over the potholes of the destroyed streets of Port au Prince to get them to the airport -- which is a scene out of hell right now -- and into the safe hands of Lt. Col. Lee Harvis with the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron, and their amazing doctors, nurses and medical staff. Too many people to mention, like Captain Tracie Tippins, who got the plane here from Miami and is giving us tail numbers and organizing ground reception in Florida for Dr. Green's team.

It is a long story and my battery is running low as I sit here writing by the light of three candles, so I will cut it short.

Paul Haggis, January 22, 2010, Port-au-Prince Haiti



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